Compared to much of America, Montana has always been a harsh place to live. It’s high, dry, and cold. This kills bugs and discourages many others. But things are changing, many for the better. Here are the major climatic changes my wife, Ramona, and I witness from our ranch in Gallatin Valley, Montana, elevation one mile high.
First, spring grass comes ten days to two weeks earlier than it did 45 years ago. And the first killing frost in the fall comes ten days to two weeks later. This means that livestock can be turned out to graze earlier and stay on green grass later. This year our steers were on green and growing grass until October 15. This means we need less hay and grain for winter feed. We save on diesel fuel, labor, and carbon dioxide emissions.
Second, we no longer have weeks of sub-zero temperatures in December, January, and February. Twenty and thirty years ago we knew we would experience consecutive weeks in which the high was minus 10 or 15 degrees F. These temperatures are hard on domestic and wild animals, on the people who care for them, on machinery, and even on buildings. Tough living indeed in sub-zero weather.
Third, earlier summer temperatures mean a longer growing season. We’ll surely get two cuttings of alfalfa and maybe even three. Family gardens are more productive and new plant varieties can be grown in gardens and croplands. The season is now sufficiently warm for local ranchers to grow field corn for winter feed.
Fourth, heating bills are far higher at 0 F than at 20 F degrees. When it is warmer, fewer pipes freeze and less effort is required to keep water open for livestock to drink.
Fifth, outdoor activities are more enjoyable when it is warmer. “Warmer” is, of course, relative. On Oct. 24, the temperature was +10 F, the weather sunny and with no wind. I took my pond walk and, coming back, I went into the solar-heated sunroom of our pond cabin—and it was a pleasant 72 degrees! A great place to contemplate, read, and write about the trinity of liberty, ecology, and prosperity.
Unfortunately, other parts of Montana and the West are drier. The state has longer fire seasons that are now starting to affect the Gallatin and Paradise Valleys. Grizzly bears and other wild animals have less fall forage, due to fewer pine nuts from white-bark pine and fewer fruits formerly available when the climate was wetter. While eastern Montana, which has a very dry climate, has about 15 percent more moisture than in the past, Gallatin Valley has slightly less moisture than the historical rate.
Here is the lesson: In ecology and economics, not all good things go together. Nevertheless, the climate is good to us in Montana these days.
This post is based on a talk John Baden gave to a conference of judges in Paradise Valley, Montana, sponsored by the Law and Economics Center of George Mason University.
The photograph shows the path to a dock on the Cabin Pond, one of five ponds on the spring creek restored by John Baden and his wife, Ramona Marotz-Baden, on their ranch in the Gallatin Valley of Montana.